Tasty coffee shop-style espresso drinks at home are a luxurious treat on a cold or rainy day. The mellow taste of a latte with flavors such as peppermint or pumpkin can elevate it to new levels of delight. A daily latte is a good thing and the perfect pick-me-up when working at the office. But what if you’re working from home now?
Espresso machines have become more sophisticated and more powerful. The first machines on the market lacked the water pressure required to produce a quality brew with the right amount of crema. Crema is the frothy, caramel colored foam that is important for overall taste and, of course, beautiful latte art. You don’t need an expensive machine to make cafe-level espresso but it might be helpful to know that the better machines produce better result, more easily.
There are a number of factors that go into making good espresso, including grind (use ultra fine), tamping (tightly pushing the coffee into the extractor), and the quality of beans. Home-made espresso tastes different from cafe-bought because their beans are tailored to suit customer expectations and go through rigorous taste-testing trials. Starbucks uses a different espresso blend compared to the independent coffee houses. Espresso beans are generally roasted darker than regular coffee but not always. Start with the coffee you already like and test using progressively darker beans until you find a brew that you like. Try mixing beans from different parts of the world to make your own ‘house’ blend.
Start with fresh, whole beans and grind them yourself. Beans should have a slightly oily appearance although this will diminish over time. A burr grinder is more exact than a blade grinder and may even have settings for drip and espresso grinds. A diluted espresso means the grind was too course; a bitter espresso indicates it was too fine. A proper grind will leave a slight stain on your fingertips when you touch it. Tamp firmly but not excessively. A correct grind/tamp combination will produce a balanced taste. If it tastes good, you did it right.
One of the best reasons to make lattes at home is that you can enjoy your favorite flavors all winter. The ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte is always pulled from the menu far too early in the season. Just as one begins to warm up to them as an emotional support coffee, they are gone. Thankfully, the main ingredients, Torani Pumpkin Pie Sauce and brown sugar, are easily available. These are the same ingredients that the independent cafes use, and the taste is the real thing. The Torani sauces allow you to control the sweetness by adding your own sugar or NutraSweet. Serve your pumpkin spice latte in a favorite mug with whipped cream on top.
Unlike drip coffee, a shot of espresso is intended to be consumed quickly and immediately after brewing. This is when the flavors are their strongest. In the summer, it provides an uplifting break that doesn’t overwhelm the body with too much heat. Experiment with an espresso shot in the afternoon or after a meal to see if you like it. Adding hot water to make it a mugful is called an Americano. The taste is more caramel than drip without slightly less caffeine. You may not want to drink drip coffee with breakfast once you’ve tried it.
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